May 17, 2007
Surya Yalamanchili and Categorizing Reality Show Fans

In the last two posts, I evoked my list of fan categories and then Rob Kozinets'. While my categories, based on my research of fan behaviors, sought to describe different modes of engagement that fans entered in relation to a media product, Kozinets looks at online communities in particular and four fan types, depending on their relationship to the community and their relationship with the media property or brand.

Since I wrote in the post about my categories about the idea of vernacular theory, however, I thought it would be intriguing to bring up a recent list of fan types from the Weblog of Surya Yalamanchili, brand manager and reality television star.

Now, longtime readers may remember that Surya is a friend of the blog, and may have even read the post once upon a time about a situation in which he commented, as an Indian-American reality star from this season of The Apprentice, on the treatment of an Indian participant on another reality show, available here.

I was interested, then, when Surya posted in late April with a list of fan types regarding reality show fans. Of course, you better believe his posting was personal, since he was writing about the fans who had dissected him and his castmates for the past several weeks, and the show that presented them.

Surya has written on several occasions, actually, about his time on the show, but in this post, he writes that there are three types of fans, although he really describes three main types and two splinter groups:

1.) The Professor. These fans have strong opinions and believe they are experts and understand how the show works, but they generally take the show's text at face value and then examine and dissect it for every bit of meaning.

2.) The Realist. This fan group Surya writes about are much more cynical as to the validity of how the shows are edited together and look for inconsistencies in the story presented by looking at ancillary sources, etc.

3.) The Passives. They watch the show when it's on and forget about it when it's off. Surya believes this is the majority of viewers, which I think is true, but they also exist in a social reality where many of these fans may be influenced by the other categories who act as proselytizers, as informers, etc., to the passives. (Surya doesn't use this title, but I think it's generally the fan type he is describing).

4.) The Participants. This splinter group involves contestants themselves, family and friends, crew members, and others who have some sort of official knowledge about a show.

5.) The Experts. Here he is talking about official sources who write about the show within their professional capacity. In the case of The Apprentice, these are people who write about business lessons from the reality show.

I find the distinction between realists and professors to be interesting, and his titles to be even more interesting. The professors seem to be from the school of new criticism, in that they study the meaning inherent in the text without ever looking into anything about the creation of that text at all. Perhaps we should tell Surya that many academics today don't use New Criticism as their primary mode of investigation. Something tells me, however, that Surya's categorization was more a critique of the pomposity and assumed knowledge of the fans rather than a stab at academia, but that's really a tangent...

The key is that I think it's an interesting distinction between fans who are interested in gleaning all of their knowledge solely from the show's main text and another group who is interested in drawing on a variety of outside resources. Surya contends that most of the active fans who go to outside resources are more cynical and questioning of authorial intent, while the "professors" are only interested in the text, yet both are active forms of engagement...

Just thought it might be some food for thought from someone who, through his life in the past year, has given quite a bit of thought to reality television.